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Factory Farms Causing Spike in Asthma

Study Links Children's Asthma to Hog Farms

Thu Dec 9,10:26 PM ET Health - AP

By DAVID PITT, Associated Press Writer

DES MOINES, Iowa - A University of Iowa study released Thursday said
children living on hog farms are more likely to have asthma. The
prevalence of asthma is even more dramatic among children living on
hog farms where antibiotics are added to feed, said the study's
author Dr. James A. Merchant, dean of the College of Public Health
and an environmental health professor.

Researchers examined 644 children from birth through 17 years old
living in Keokuk County. They considered other risk factors for
asthma including premature birth, respiratory infections at a young
age, personal history of allergies and family history of allergic

The study indicated that 55.8 percent of children living on hog farms
where antibiotics are added to feed had at least one health indicator
of asthma. That compares to 26.2 percent of children on farms that do
not raise hogs.

"We believe that some of the increase in asthma risk is related to
occupational and bystander exposures in animal feeding operations,"
Merchant said.

Farms which provide antibiotics in pig feed tend to be larger, but
Merchant said the research team concluded antibiotic exposure may
play some role in the development of childhood asthma.

"We're quite certain that the kids who were working in or as
bystanders or close to those facilities are getting exposed to
antibiotic laden dust," Merchant said.

He said further study needs to be done to determine what role the
antibiotics in feed plays.

The study indicated that 42.9 percent of children on farms with less
than 500 pigs had signs of asthma while 46 percent on farms with more
than 500 pigs had asthma indicators.

The study indicated that 33.6 percent of children not living on a
farm and not around swine had at least one indicator of asthma.

Merchant acknowledged that asthma is a complex condition that may be
caused by several genetic and environmental factors, but said the
study should heighten the awareness of swine farm parents that their
children may face an increased risk of asthma, he said.

He said farm families should limit a child's exposure to the hog
feeding operations and should keep contaminated clothing and shoes
out of the house.

Like many hog producers, Rep. Sandra Greiner, R-Keota, said she's
skeptical of studies drawing such connections.

Greiner, her husband and three sons raised hogs in eastern Iowa for
decades and developed no adverse health problems.

"From my own personal experience, I raised three children whose job
it was to do chores. They had chores to do as little boys and they
more or less grew up out there and their health is fine," she said.

Her children have grown to be farmers and one son continues to raise
hogs, she said.

Peggy Birchmeier, who lives on a Van Buren County livestock farm near
Milton, believes the study.

Birchmeier said her husband now raises only cattle, but once had a
small hog operation. She would be concerned for children exposed to
the air.

"They're little respiratory systems aren't developed yet to handle
it," she said. "Even as an adult, I would have an air mask on because
you have the dust and the particles floating around in the air."

Merchant said the study was limited to close exposure by children
living on the hog farm and does not suggest a higher risk for
neighbors living downwind from the farm.

The study was published in the peer-reviewed journal Environmental
Health Perspectives, a publication of the National Institute of
Environmental Health Sciences.

Steven Roach (
Food Animal Concerns Trust
PO Box 14599
Chicago, IL 60614